Monday, February 12, 2018

Easy Cheesy Valentines

Looking for an awesome alternative to candy for your kids' Valentine's Day exchange at school?

These Cheesy Valentines are perfect!

1. Start with your favorite snack cheese or string cheese.

Cheese makes a great Valentine's Day gift because it's so tasty! But, from a mom's perspective, cheese is great because its protein helps counter all of the sugar that comes with traditional Valentine's Day treats.

2. Add a cute label.

Standard mailing labels (Avery 5160 or 8160) fit perfectly on most snack-sized cheese.

The Avery Design & Print online label designer makes designing labels super easy.

Older kids can design their own labels. My littler kids sat with me and picked out the clip-art and fonts they wanted for their labels.

3. Pack the cheese snacks in an insulated lunch bag with a small ice pack so they stay cold until the exchange.

Happy Valentine's Day!

I am a Land O'Lakes Cooperative member-owner; I did not receive compensation from Land O'Lakes for this post. I have no affiliation with Avery Products Corporation, nor did I receive compensation for this post. All opinions are my own.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Fiesta Stoup

Veggies + Meat + Spices = Party in your mouth. But don't try eating it without cheese. Then it's not nearly as much fun.

Fiesta: party or celebration... derived from the Latin word for feast...

Stoup: thicker than soup... thinner than stew...

And that's exactly what this spicy, meat and veggie-rich soup/stew is: a party in your mouth.

But don't try eating it without cheese. Then it's not nearly as much fun.

This stoup comes together in minutes with three easy main ingredients: a bag of frozen sliced bell peppers and onions, a can of diced tomatoes, and shredded meat. I usually use leftover beef roast or pork roast. If I'm really craving this stoup, I'll bake a couple frozen chicken breasts and shred them.

I've been making this stoup for so long, I can't even remember how I first came up with the idea. But I do know what keeps me making it:

✔ Delicious!
✔ Quick and easy to make
✔ Minimal prep with recipe-ready ingredients
✔ Repurpose leftover roast beef, roast pork, or chicken
✔ Keeps and reheats really well! I make a double batch and eat it for lunch all week.
✔ Super nutritious: fiber (from veggies), protein (from meat and cheese), and phytonutrients (from veggies and spices)
✔ Very low carb
✔ Easily customizable: cut back on the chipotle and cayenne peppers for less heat; add a can of pinto beans (drained and rinsed); the variations are endless

Fiesta Stoup


1 cup chicken broth (or 1 cup water + bouillon/soup base)
14 oz bag frozen sliced bell peppers and onions (like Birds Eye® Pepper Stir-Fry)
14 oz can petite diced tomatoes (with juice)
2 cups cooked, shredded beef roast, pork roast, or chicken (approx. ½ pound)

2 teaspoons chili powder
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon onion powder
½ teaspoon cocoa powder
¼ teaspoon ground oregano
¼ teaspoon smoked paprika
¼ teaspoon chipotle chile pepper
¼ teaspoon ground cayenne red pepper
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
salt to taste

1 tablespoon lime juice

Co-jack cheese, sliced or shredded (I love the convenience of Land O'Lakes® Co-Jack Snack Cheese.)

Optional Accompaniments: sour cream, avocado, tortilla chips


Combine broth and frozen vegetables in medium pot. Cook over medium heat until vegetables are hot.

While vegetables are heating, combine spices in small bowl.

Add tomatoes, shredded meat, and spices to vegetables. Mix well to distribute spices. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes to combine flavors.

Remove from heat and stir in lime juice.

Serve with cheese. I like to take a bite of Co-Jack Snack Cheese and follow it with a bite of Fiesta Stoup. It's just as good if you top the hot stoup with shredded cheese and let it melt.

I am a Land O'Lakes Cooperative member-owner; I did not receive compensation from Land O'Lakes for this post. I have no affiliation with Birds Eye or Pinnacle Foods Group LLC, nor did I receive compensation for this post. All opinions are my own.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Just Born – Favorite Newborn Photos and Stories of 2017

There's something abidingly special about newborn calves. Even after 30 years, every new calf still fills me with excitement, awe, and appreciation.
Darcie and Darla
Darcie and Darla

There's something abidingly special about newborn calves. I've been doing this for almost 30 years now. Checking for new calves, fetching new calves from pasture, assisting with the delivery of calves, etc. Every new calf still fills me with excitement, awe, and appreciation.

I could write a blog post about each calf and the story of her birth, the story of her family in our herd, what makes her special, and on and on. Perhaps this year I will. I didn't write much last year, but I'd still like to remember these newborns and their stories.

Plus, I find the challenge of taking newborn photos thrilling. There's nothing more rewarding than capturing a perfect moment in a picture. Cow and calf both looking, eyes open, ears up. Lots of times it all comes down to good timing and good luck, but I have developed a few tricks for getting the picture I want. The photo above of Darcie and her calf Darla from this summer is one of the best newborn photos I've ever taken. However, Glen thinks the photo, just below, of Agape and her calf, Ree, from 2014 is my best photo ever. Which one would you vote for?

Agape and Ree
Agape and Ree

Anyway, in addition to the photo of Darcie and Darla, here are the rest of my Favorite Newborn Photos and Stories of 2017.

Double delight

This story has multiple levels of incredible.

The story involves twin sisters Agape and Amore (pronounced Uh-gah-pay and Uh-more-ay; Greek and Italian words for love). Both Agape and Amore were due to have their calves a day apart: August 13 and 14. The odds of them both becoming pregnant at essentially the same time are incomprehensible. Especially considering that they're seven years old now and cows' fertility tends to decline as they age.

Their so-close due dates meant Apape and Amore got to spend their dry period together in the dry cow pasture. (We don't milk cows during the last two months of their gestations; this dry period, as we call it, allows them to rest before their next lactation and devote their energy to growing their unborn calf.)

Agape (right) and Amore

As their due dates approached, it started to look like Agape would calve early and Amore would calve late. With dairy cows, early calves tend to be girls and late calves tend to be boys. We kept our fingers crossed that both Agape and Amore would have heifer calves.

Agape did calve early, on August 9, with a heifer calf. This heifer calf is Agape's fifth heifer calf out of five pregnancies. It's rare for a cow to deliver 100% heifer calves. We named Agape's calf Agatha.

Agape and Agatha
Agape and Agatha

Four days later, and right on time, Amore had her calf. It's also uncommon for cows to calve exactly on their due dates. Joy of joys, the calf was a girl!

Unlike her twin sister, though, this was Amore's first heifer calf out of five pregnancies. The stars must have aligned just right for Agape and Amore to both deliver heifer calves at (almost) the same time.

Amore and Athena
Amore and Athena

No photos, please

Not every cow and calf pair agree with my ideas about newborn photos. Case in point: Georgia and her new heifer calf, Germany. It still turned out to be a pretty neat picture.

Georgia and Germany
Georgia and Germany

Three for you, three for me

Sisters Georgia (above) and Geisha (below) both gave birth to their third heifer calves this year. I didn't get a picture of Geisha with her calf, Glamour.

On our farm, cows achieve a special status when they have three daughters in the herd. Georgia and Geisha's mom, Gyspie, gave us five daughters in the 8½ years she was with us: Geisha, Georgia, Ghana, Gypsum, and Gambler. All of the cows in this family are redefining what it means to never age. Georgia is six years old now and starting to show her age a little, but Geisha, at 7½ years old, looks half her age.


Like mother, like daughter

Sometimes calves come out looking just like their mothers. Sometimes they look like their fathers. And sometimes we just scratch our heads and wonder how exactly their chromosomes combined.

Glee came out almost a spitting image of her mother, Gloriana. Her arrival was met with many hoots, hollers, hips, and hoorays. Milking Shorthorn heifer calves are always exciting – especially roans.

Gloriana and Glee
Gloriana and Glee

Just, just born...

I don't often take pictures of seconds-old calves. Mostly, because during the summer our cows calve on pasture and we're rarely right there when they calve. And in the winter, we rush newborn calves to the incubator to warm them up, so there's no time to dally around snapping pictures. Plus, brand spankin' new calves are wet and slimy, which makes them considerably less photogenic than their dry, fluffy versions.

But, this year I got a couple photos of calves with their mothers immediately after their arrival.

Garnet's heifer calf, Glow, was much hoped for. Garnet is one of our Milking Shorthorns and the kids really wanted a spring Milking Shorthorn calf to show at the fair. Glow did end up going to the fair, with Monika at the halter, and did very well for a baby calf.

Garnet and Glow
Garnet and Glow

We said goodbye to Wink this fall. She will forever be one of Glen's favorite cows. This is the last picture I took of her. I'm glad it was a good one.

Wink and her bull calf
Wink and her bull calf

My niece actually took this picture of Stephanie and her calf, Sky, this spring; I was out of town with the kids when Stephanie calved and my niece knew that Monika would want to see a picture right away. (Stephanie is Monika's Jersey cow.)

One thing I love about this picture is that, if you look close, you can still see the soft white pads covering Sky's little hooves. These soft pads cover a calf's hooves in utero to make sure his/her sharp hooves don't puncture the placenta or the cow's uterus.

Stephanie and Sky
Stephanie and Sky

Last, but certainly not least...

One of the best newborn calf stories of the year is the story of Wonder and Whoops. The story is so good it has it's own separate post. (With even more photos of this adorable cutie!)

Whoops ended up going to the fair this summer, too, with Dan at the halter. She, too, did pretty darn well.

blue roan Holstein x Milking Shorthorn dairy calf